This is a graphic novel in conversational form. What that means is that we trace the memoir writing of Mira Jacob, known for her novel A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, told in a series of conversations with her son, her husband, her grandmother, her parents, and friends, and presented in a kind of graphic format with painted over photographs and illustrations, maps, images, and other visual format to support the book. These conversations at their best trace Mira Jacob’s life as an Indian-American woman married to a white man and tracing her family history in the US, telling the stories of her childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. At its more common, and less good, it’s a conversation with her son about life in the US in 2016. What makes these parts less good is that they read like almost every single other or the agglomeration of every single other conversation on this topic that we’ve been having for the last three years, discussing and elucidating a frustration that we’ve already been feeling and talking about, and I fear adding nothing much to the conversation. I ultimately didn’t find anything in these sections that I couldn’t find in almost any Pajiba comments thread or good Twitter feed. And even the distillations of the ideas, as they were, come across in ultimately middling clarity. It’s a book to nod your head along with, but not a book that I felt taught me or showed me or allowed me to reflect on our times. And worse than that, I feel it falls into the trap of thinking right now is worse than it’s ever been, because it happens to be happening now. The real problem with this thinking is the misunderstanding that the ending of this period (and it will end) won’t fix the things that got us here.
Be Everything at Once –
This is a charming collection of mostly four panel (2×2) webcomics, that among other things resemble more or less modern takes on older comic beats. What’s nice about the whole collection is that the comics become more seasoned and well-crafted as we get closer to the present and show the clear growth of the artist as she becomes more and more accustomed to her craft.
The artist is Dami Lee, a woman born in Korea, who immigrated to the US at a young age, and later faced the decision to not return with her family as they moved around. Now permanently settled in the US and in her post college days, her comics deal with the everyday life of a woman in her 20s with a very soft edges approach various topics. She’s often the topic and site of the joke, but never really the butt of them either, and none of the comics is “hard hitting ” in any given way. And it’s interesting to me because so many many many webcomics are a space for an artist to really work out their frustrations if not more serious issues with modern society on the page, and sometimes it’s nice to have a collection that is mostly looking at more traditional joke forms, still finding humor, and not always dealing with more serious topics. It’s almost like a subversive kind of good naturedness.
Deep Dark Fears
This is another webcomics collection collated and curated from an online submission of users supplying the artist with their irrational (and sometimes less funny rational) fears. So each individual comic is an illustration of that fear present in stark unadorned comic art but through their both seriousness and straightforward presentation drawing the humor of the fear itself out. The comics are funny and sometimes alarming and because there’s so many fear presented, you’d find a few that you would certainly recognize and maybe share, and this balances out the ones you don’t happen to feel and share. So you fully are in either sympathy or empathy mode throughout, depending on your orientation to the specific fear being presented. I don’t think I could review a second collection of these, especially given that I don’t apparently feel super inclined to discuss the specifics of the fears that much, but I find them really compelling, funny, and interesting.
Present is a kind of year in the life of a woman in her late 20s or maybe early 30s looking for her place in New York City (but could be any city really) as she works in art, various restaurants and bars, and other jobs trying to make it as an artist.
But what makes it good (and it is good) is that the book never really addresses these question head on. Instead, you’re clearly in this space and in this familiar territory in this book, and looking at the specific flavors.
So the effect of this is taking well-worn territory and maybe not presenting in entirely novel fashion (although some through execution) but avoiding cliche by not directly addressing this topic. Instead the comics deal with frustrations, friendship, working, art, meeting new people, dating, all of this.
The art is also very appealing. Much of the background illustration of the pages is done in a kind of watercolor style (although likely done with a Wacom tablet) and the characters are done in a kind of cutesy comic style, and none of the characters has a face. They have hair, a body, and eyes, and no other real features. It adds a visual complexity to familiar tropes.